The Men Who Stare At Goat’s Head Thorns

My confidence was shot. My bike was crippled. My route was a mess. My will to press on through increasingly dangerous conditions had almost completely waned. Almost.


When I woke up after a restless night at the side of the Platte River north of Colorado Springs, I was done with the tour. The stress of food poisoning, Amtrak losing my bike, and the hellish night riding through southern Colorado Springs’ sprawling industry and piecemeal bike path had left me pretty rattled.

My bike was completely iced over. My water was frozen solid. It had slipped just below 20 degrees that night, and the back brake was frozen. I shook my sleeping bag out and packed everything, numbing my hands. I rode about 300 feet before I stopped for more layers. Still, daylight made a lot of things seem remarkably easier than they had the previous night, and I was a lot less panicky. I rode to a local IHOP and had breakfast with about 40 U.S. Military and Air Force trainees, and started planning routes.

It looked like my plan was to ride back up to Denver, where I was familiar with the terrain and the distance between facilities. A bit more touring was what I wanted, and I had enjoyed that section of colorado so much more than the southern half. I eventually migrated to a KOA campground. That’s when I learned about the wind event.

Contrary to the previous day, this section of Colorado was completely flat. There was no protection from a “wind event,” which the locals warned was set to get quite serious. By mid-afternoon, the wind was rising, so I payed an extra few bucks for a KOA cabin instead of a tent spot and went to sleep.

I woke up to a howling wind, and worst of all, two flat tires.

This is where I met the Goat’s Head thorn, bane of the cyclist.

Each one of my tires had between 30 and 40 thorns in it. Each thorn was the size of a pea, and went through my Schwalbe tire to the delicate tube inside. I had picked up all 50+ thorns in about 100 feet of rolling through the campground’s tall grass, and I didn’t even realize it until it was far too late.

I was heartbroken; I had one spare tube and no experience with thorns. There’s a very specific feeling of utter hopelessness that comes with losing the bike, especially in a place like Colorado where everything is separated by several miles. Not having my mobility was so crushing, I nearly broke into tears. I called home in dejection and desperation, talked with my parents, recuperated for a moment, and then set to work pulling thorns. After 20 minutes, I had one tire cleared and re-pumped, but the tube immediately lost air. I was stuck.

I called a cab for a ride to the local REI, 16 minutes away. That cost more than I had spent on accommodations that night. My driver was a Native American named Mario who made a fantastic tour guide, and he told me all about the recreation around Pike’s Peak, including an endurance trail built on an insane grade by the U.S. Military for training (or punishing) recruits. Colorado Springs wasn’t the hole it had appeared to be the previous night, although the ubiquitous 8-lane highways were really starting to weigh on me.

The REI replaced both tubes and helped me get the rest of my thorns out. I briefly inquired about REI’s bike shipping policy in case I needed it in Denver, and that’s when fate stepped in and saved my tour.

Mike was a bike tourist raising money for a charity ride that supports an outreach center for the blind. You can find out more on his website at 


Mike and I joined forces within three minutes of meeting each other. We agreed to tour together before we knew each other’s names. He was an 18-year veteran bicycle mechanic and we were both ready to ride. I told him he looked like a viking, and he said he couldn’t believe how fast his beard was growing. Mike had biked from Washington to Utah on the pacific coast during the wet season, and had endured a crash near the Rockies that convinced him to rent a car over the mountain passes. Hearing about an expert crashing on a tour made my crash in Montreal seem a bit more reasonable. I liked Mike. He filled me with confidence. Since I couldn’t go north, west, or south, going east with Mike seemed like a grand idea, and we set off.

And just like that, my tour was back on.

2 thoughts on “The Men Who Stare At Goat’s Head Thorns

  1. Saw your quest for the perfect water bottle on BPL. I’m not a member, but myself and other trail runners here in Western Washington (WEWA) have been using aluminum beer cans with scew-on tops with great success. Coors and Miller Lite, a case is 9 bottles for about $16 and the beer is FREE. They don’t leak, they are unbreakable, don’t crack when frozen, and you can boil water in them. AND – they weigh about 1 ounce.

  2. I’m from southern New Mexico, and we know all about the perfidious goat’s head thorn here! You’re more resilient than I am, because I cut short a bike trip after two flat tires within half an hour (20-30 thorns in each tire)–this despite green goop.

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